This is my ode about the time I spent with my grandfather on Cape Cod. I hope to honor the summers we shared and the teams we rooted for by reuniting a game used bat for every Red Sox position player from 1975 to 1986. This is for you Gus!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fred Kendall

I spent most of the 10 weeks that separate school years on Cape Cod with my grandparents. Maybe it’s my age or my penchant to idealize summertime memories, but they were good times. I worked beside my grandfather on the milk truck every morning. He woke me at 4:30am! Afternoons I played baseball with Craig, his brother Brian and an ever changing assortment of neighborhood kids. We claimed an abandoned park as our own. Sandy, with grass to our knees, it had the remains of a tennis court fence in left field that we pretended was Fenway’s Green Monster. When we wanted to cool down we rode our bikes to the beach or sat beneath backyard shade trees and traded cards.

In middle school our collections were without direction and our trades were motivated by the desire to repopulate the nine pocket pages that filled our vinyl sports card albums. The memories of specific trades have been lost to time but the adventure of swapping and the laughs we had are still a part of my memory of sunny summer afternoons. Times have changed and Craig and I have too. It has been more than 30 years since we opened our binders and traded cards, but last month, standing in a parking lot outside a card show at a Holiday Inn we engineered another trade; a straight up swap of Tommy Harper and Fred Kendall game used bats. The more things change, the more they stay they same.

17 bats down 66 to go.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Dave Henderson

When I first started thinking about writing this post my focus was predictably on Dave Henderson’s dramatic game 5 ALCS homerun. It was a moment that brought hope and the belief that the 1986 Red Sox were a team of destiny. Of course history records something different and Boston fans had to wait 18 more seasons to see a World Championship Red Sox team. While grazing the internet I discovered that history records Henderson’s life and career differently than shown by that never ending highlight loop of his homerun in Anaheim.

Often as fans we glorify the public achievements of the players we root for and ignore the man and his actions off of the field. In a time when turning on ESPN ensures yet another story of domestic violence, drug arrests or multi-million dollar salary disputes, what I found written about Dave Henderson certainly caught me by surprise and changed how I view the man. Henderson past away just after Christmas last year and instead of a torrid string of articles about drugs, mistresses and gambling, what was put out about him were articles about a man with a big smile and an even bigger heart. Countless families came forward telling of visits to sick children in hospitals across the country, teammates wrote about his ability to make peace among angry teammates and usually skeptical sports reporters spoke of him in term of endearment.  Hendu, I am glad you were a member of our team, if only for a few short years.

16 bats down 67 to go.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Mike Stenhouse

When Mike Stenhouse suited up for the Red Sox in 1986 he was on the southbound slope of a career trajectory that saw him go from prospect to suspect. A top high school prospect, Stenhouse turned down scholarship offers from every major program to attend Harvard, where he made the All Ivy League Team his freshman year and found a roster spot with the Chatham A's of the vaunted Cape Cod League that summer. Drafted fourth overall by the Montreal Expos in 1980, Stenhouse worked his way up through their system and in 1983 was named Expos Minor League Player of the Year.

Stenhouse was invited to spring training with the Expos in 1984 and made the most of his opportunity by setting a team record for preseason home runs and earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. It wasn't long after that things began to unravel for Stenhouse and he was dealt to Minnesota where he quickly wore out his welcome and was moved again, this time to Boston. Stenhouse was unable to regain his hitting prowess with Boston and spent most of the 1986 season with Pawtucket. Stenhouse sums it up best in the introduction to the book Mendoza's Heroes where he writes, "The only thing I find more astonishing than someone writing a book about below .200 hitters is that I am in a book about below .200 hitters. It just wasn't supposed to end up this way."

15 bats down 68 to go.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jim Rice

Bill James once wrote that, "giving Fenway Park to Jim Rice was like giving Superman brass knuckles." The truth is, for a period of time in the late 1970's no batter gave pitchers the night sweats quite like Rice. He appeared absolutely calm waiting on a pitch, but then a gazelle might say the same about a hungry lion laying in the tall grass of the savannah.

Rice played his entire career for the Red Sox, blasting 382 home runs and driving in 1451 rbi's while maintaining a batting average near .300. Impressive as those numbers are they do not begin to tell the whole story. In a three year stretch from 1977 - 79, Rice hit 124 home runs, drove in 383 rbi's, averaged .320 and led the American League in total bases each season. Not eye popping enough? In 1978 Rice led the American League in at-bats, hits, runs batted in, triples, home runs, extra base hits, total bases, times on base and slugging percentage. That season he also played in 163 games. Rice's number 14 was retired by the Red Sox in 2009.

14 bats down 69 bats to go.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mike Easler

When David Mullany invented the wiffle ball for his son in 1953 he had no way of knowing that millions of American kids would grow up playing his game. Another thing he would have no way of knowing is that the perfect swing and follow through when hitting a wiffle ball resembles that of Mike Easler. However, during the summer of 1984 my friends and I realized this fact and what followed was a wiffle ball season for the ages.

We were 14 years old and spent most of our spare time at Butterworth Park in Framingham. Outdated and run down, the park did have one thing to draw us, an enormous grandstand with a 35 foot cement wall on its backside. The old stone surface had ledges and cracks that we used to determine the outcomes of our games. A single, double or triple were measured by how many ledges up the wiffle ball hit. If the ball was caught before falling back down onto the wavy blacktop the batter was out, if not, the hit counted. Any ball hit over the grandstand was a home run.

I don't remember who tried Easler's uncomfortable, exaggerated stance first. What I do remember is that wiffle balls began flying over that old grandstand at a rate higher than any of our previous 162 game seasons. Despite the epic number of dingers we hit that year we will never know how long our record went unchallenged because by the start of the new school year we had all turned our attention to a much more interesting and complicated pastime; girls.

13 bats down 70 to go.

Epilogue: Not long ago I drove by Butterworth Park just as a bulldozer was turning the old grandstand into a pile of broken cement chunks. I am glad to have spent time there in my youth.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bo Diaz

I have been collecting baseball memorabilia in one form or another for the better part of 40 years and my collection reflects my changing interests over time. When I was younger my collection was a competition with friends. Being the first to complete a Topps set was a special point of pride. With some maturity and the availability of complete sets in the Sears Christmas catalog, my interests began to change. Now, many years later, I see my collection as a way of preserving memories, connecting with old friends and meeting new ones. One new relationship resulted in this Bo Diaz bat.

A few years ago when I  regularly contributed to Sports Collectors Daily, I interviewed Ryan Anderson of Crown Sports Auctions for an article I was writing about his auction house. Ryan was great to work with and expressed an interest in helping bat collectors fill holes in their collections. Well, Ryan lived up to his words. A few weeks after I started this blog, I received a phone call from Ryan. He had seen 83 Bats and asked if I had a Diaz bat yet because he had one to give me. Thank you Ryan, the Bo Diaz bat reduced my want list by one, but more importantly it is a reminder that friendships are the most important part of this hobby.

12 bats down 71 to go.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reid Nichols

My grandfather liked Reid Nichols. Raised on a small farm during the depression he could be accurately described as a practical man. So when he took me to a couple of games during the 1982 season and Reid Nichols homered once in the first game and twice in the second game, Gus felt he got his money's worth.

That same summer I was trying to leave my awkward middle school persona behind by participating  in that All-American pathway to high school glory; football. Suddenly buying packs of baseball cards at Cintolo's Market wasn't so important, and for one summer following the Sox wasn't either. Things were changing fast for me and the career of Reid Nichols was barely a blip on my screen.

Reid Nichols was used primarily as a fourth outfielder and pinch hitter during his six seasons with Boston. Never able to break into the starting nine, he was dealt to the White Sox for Tim Lollar midway through the 1985 season. Although Nichols did not make a big splash with Fenway's Faithful, the old Swede I spent my summers with saw something special in him. For that Reid Nichols I thank you ... wherever you are.

11 bats down 72 to go.

Friday, June 10, 2016

LaSchelle Tarver

If not for a September surge of an age old rivalry, a liberal beer sales policy at Yankee Stadium and one Thomas J. Nihill, the month long Major League career of LaSchelle Tarver may have been lost to history. A career minor leaguer who's 13 games in the show produced an anemic .120 slugging percentage, the only evidence Tarver actually wielded a bat can be found in a September 13, 1986 police report.

On that day Jim Rice pursued a fly ball into the Yankee Stadium stands and when he emerged from the crowd he was without the ball and his hat. Madness ensued. Within seconds Rice was joined by his Red Sox teammates, including LaSchelle Tarver who was carrying a bat. When the dust settled Yankees fan Thomas J. Nihill was in cuffs, Jim Rice had his hat back and LaSchelle Tarver, having once again failed to make contact, was not charged with a crime.

10 bats down 73 to go.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Stan Papi

Before there was Big Papi there was Stan Papi, but in the hearts of Fenway's faithful they could not have been more different. Stan Papi was brought to Boston for one reason, to move eccentric, left leaning, fan favorite Bill Lee out of town. Fans never let him forget it and instead of welcoming him with open arms he was treated with the cold shoulders of an entire city.

Papi's short lived stint with Boston also marks the period that my family temporarily moved from Framingham Massachusetts, a city of brick smokestacks and diehard Red Sox fans to a small town in central Connecticut with rolling hills of tobacco and people who actually root for the Yankees. Things could not have felt more foreign to me and I struggled to find my place in a new community. I imagine that Papi felt the same, but for his part he never complained. My mother has a different story to tell about me. After little more than a season Papi was traded to Philadelphia and I was starting a new school year back in Red Sox country. Even though both Papi and I experienced tough times in 1979 things improved for both of us with the changing of the decade.

9 bats down 74 to go.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Jeff Newman

The closer I look at the careers of the men I grew up idolizing the more I realize that their stories are less like that of Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski and more like Jeff Newman's. Newman was not an All Star but a craftsman who spent six years in the minor leagues learning his trade before getting the opportunity to go to work at the major league level. Once there Newman never rose above third on the catching depth chart despite spending nine years between Oakland and Boston.

Even though he never garnered the adulation that some of his teammates took for granted and the post career aches and pains that must be Newman's constant companion, I have to believe that he wouldn't trade having been a ball player for any other profession. After all he is able to claim to have pitched one scoreless inning in relief and to have utterly owned pitcher Wayne Garland, whom Newman went 13 for 18 against with two home runs. That sounds like a great career to me.

8 bats down 75 to go.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Marty Barrett

Some players arrive at the Major League level with bodies that look like they were carved from granite. Marty Barrett was not one of those players. In fact, Barrett looked more like Barney Rubble in a double knit jersey than an athlete, but looks can be deceiving.                                                                                                                                                                    Barrett played nine seasons of his decade long Major League career on the infield dirt at Fenway. Despite his unfortunate build he was an excellent fielder and a reliable bat for the Sox and was a fan favorite during the 1980's. Barrett played the game hard and always seemed to have a trick up his sleeve. Barrett pulled off the hidden ball trick three times in his career, including twice in July of 1985 and became a longtime fixture in the NESN highlight loop for one time stealing second base by stopping his slide early, popping up and stepping over the outstretched glove of a dumbfounded Billy Ripken.

7 bats down 76 to go.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Marc Sullivan

Actual text message from my friend Craig, "Saw you won that Marc Sullivan bat on ebay. Nice. Good luck writing about him without a mention of nepotism." Challenge accepted.

Marc Sullivan was drafted by the Red Sox in the second round of the 1979 amateur draft after being named an All American at the University of Florida. A defensive specialist, Sullivan struggled at the plate at every level of professional baseball and never broke the Mendoza line once joining the parent club. Sullivan played a total of 137 games for the Sox during his career including just four games during a three year stretch.

After digging for information, I have come to two conclusions. First, Marc Sullivan may very well have had the most undistinguished and mediocre career of any player during my childhood. No humorous stories, memorable practical jokes or game winning home runs have been recorded to argue otherwise. Second, Craig you were right, I can't do it without a mention of nepotism. Marc and Haywood Sullivan were the first player and owner family combination in baseball since Earle and Connie Mack almost 70 years earlier.

6 bats down 77 to go.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Andy Merchant

Andy Merchant was born on Ted Williams' 32nd birthday and from an early age made a name for himself on the fields of Mobile Alabama. Recruited by Auburn, Merchant once pounded out six hits in a single game and was named to the All S.E.C. team his senior year. With talent like that it wasn't long before Milt Bolling signed another prospect from the deep South to a Red Sox contract.

Despite high hopes Merchant found himself in a glut of catching talent stuck behind Carlton Fisk and only saw Major League action in three games between the 1975 and 76 seasons. After his last cup of coffee Merchant returned to Pawtucket where he platooned with Gary Allenson through the end of the 1979 season. A January 1980 phone call from the Sox front office inviting Merchant to spring training was cut short due to bad reception and led to a misunderstanding that found Merchant working full-time for Alabama Power and Red Sox management looking at his empty locker in Winter Haven wondering where he was.

5 bats down 78 to go.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Larry Wolfe

This past weekend my friend Craig and I made our annual pilgrimage to Wilmington, Ma for New England's largest card show. Since his family moved next door to my grandparent's home nearly forty years ago, I have been able to count Craig among my very best friends. As kids in the pre-internet, pre-cell phone days we spent countless hours outside playing baseball, riding bikes and building forts. Before suffering the malady of teen insecurity we would hop on our bikes and race down to the local store with pockets full of spare change to buy a few packs of baseball cards. Too excited to wait we would tear them open as soon as we left the store, splitting the gum and pouring over the cardboard treasure.

When I first made up a list of players whose bats I would need I accepted that there would be some players whom I never actually saw play. Larry Wolfe was one of those players. My only recollection of Wolfe is his 1980 Topps card, one I undoubtedly came across while shuffling through packs of cards with Craig. This past weekend when Craig arrived at my house he came bearing a game used Larry Wolfe bat for my collection. So while I may not remember seeing Larry Wolfe play, I will always remember how I added his bat to my collection. Thanks Craig.

4 bats down 79 to go.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Steve Dillard

Before Bill James and his flock of devotees replaced birddogs with sabermetrics, Milt Bolling roamed the Southeast hunting down baseball talent. Milt was a baseball man of the old school variety, driving across the vast states of Alabama and Mississippi to watch young talent from old rickety bleachers. Originally drafted as an infielder by the Red Sox in 1948 it was not until the mid 1970's that his true baseball genius was revealed. Among the talent he discovered were three rookie members of the 1975 Red Sox team; Andy Merchant, Butch Hobson and Steve Dillard.

Steve Dillard hailed from Saltillo, Mississippi and developed his baseball skills on the diamond at Ole Miss. Drafted by the Sox in 1972, he made it to Fenway as part of a 1975 September call up and got two hits in the first game he started. If not for multiple shoulder injuries and a glut of talent around the infield at Fenway his career might have turned out very differently. After three season of limited playing time Dillard was traded to Detroit for two minor leaguers and cash.

3 bats down 80 to go.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ed Jurak

Ed Jurak was drafted by the Red Sox in the third round of the 1975 amatuer draft and spent six years in the minors before finally making a Major League roster. Jurak filled the role of utility infielder for the Sox from 1982 to 1985, where he was steady with the glove but struggled offensively. With a batting average that dropped every year he played for the Sox, from a respectable .333 in 1982 to an anemic .231 during the 1985 campaign, it is no surprise that Jurak is best remembered for an incident unrelated to his playing skill.

The Chinese calendar designated 1984 as the year of the rat and ironically it was in May of 1984, with Cleveland in town and Bruce Hurst on the hill, that fans watched as a rat made its way from the bowels of Fenway onto the grass beside the Red Sox batter's box. Without hesitation Jurak came over from his position at first base, scooped up the rodent and deposited it in a dugout trashcan for safekeeping. This little bit of handiwork left Jurak with the unusual boxscore line of four at bats, no hits and one rat relocated. Jurak was released by the Sox after the 1985 season and played out the remainder of his career with Oakland and San Francisco.

2 bats down 81 to go.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Tommy Helms

The Red Sox packed them in during the 1977 season, as over two million fans passed through Fenway's rusty turnstiles for the first time ever. Fans lined up in record numbers to see a power packed lineup that smashed 213 home runs, including 8 in a memorable Fourth of July shellacking of Toronto. With no shortage of power that season General Manager Dick O'Connell prepared for a late season pennant push by signing veteran gloveman Tommy Helms to split playing time at second base with aging fan favorite Denny Doyle.

Signed as a free agent by Cincinnati in 1959, Helms made it to the show in 1966. Six seasons later Helms had picked up a Rookie of the Year award, two Gold Glove awards and two All Star nominations. Despite his impressive pedigree, Helms was shipped off to Houston for Joe Morgan and four other players, who made up a core part of the Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine". Helms spent four seasons in Houston and part of two in Pittsburgh before coming to Boston. Despite the addition of Helms and 97 wins, the Red Sox did not see postseason play in 1977 and Helms was released during that off season.

1 bat down 82 to go.

Monday, February 22, 2016

John Lickert

A quick study of Red Sox rosters will reveal that 84 position players suited up between 1975 and 1986, not 83. Mystery player number 84 was career minor leaguer John Lickert. Lickert was the Red Sox 13th round pick of the 1978 amateur draft and if not for a late inning defensive switch by manager Ralph Houk his name would have never appeared on a major league roster.

The day was Saturday September 19, 1981 and 32,620 of Fenway's faithful witnessed an 8 to 5 Red Sox victory over the dreaded Yankees. What many in attendance may not have noticed was John Lickert behind the dish receiving pitches from John Tudor and Mark Clear. During his two and a half inning major league career Lickert recorded one putout but not a single plate appearance. Therein lies the rub. Since Lickert did not make it into the batter's box, he will not make it into my count of bats needed to complete my collection.

Sorry John Lickert, we hardly knew you.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Gus the Milkman

When I was a boy I spent my summers on Cape Cod with my grandfather. He was a milkman who answered to Gus and he was my hero. We did many of the things that fathers and sons normally do together because my own father wasn't around. It was my grandfather who bought me my first glove, took me to my first game and is responsible for my unflagging loyalty to the Red Sox. Sadly he did not live to see the 2004 season and my memories of those summers we spent together are beginning to fade.

Like many men I am a sucker for sports memorabilia fueled nostalgia. It would not be a stretch to say that I have been bitten by the collecting bug and chasing down relics from the past seems like a perfectly logical pursuit to me. Whether it stems from my desire to cobble together the memories I shared with my grandfather or is the result of some yet unnamed disorder, I plan to collect a game used bat for every Red Sox position player from 1975 to 1986. Those seasons bookend the summers I spent with my grandfather and were dramatic, often lamented heart breakers for long suffering Red Sox fans.

And so begins my quest ... for 83 bats.